By: Jim Williams
The annual Grand Prix of Baltimore is scheduled to run this Labor Day weekend on the downtown streets of Charm City. This event is a three day festival of motor racing starting with practice runs on Friday August 30th, and culminating on Sunday September 1st, with the Grand Prix itself. There are many who felt that this race weekend would not survive after its inaugural launch, which took place back in 2011. Despite its success with fans, drivers, and IndyCar executives, the inaugural Grand Prix was a financial loss for the city, the original race promoters, and many of its vendors. Consequently, there were a number of prominent voices which insisted that the 2011 event should be Charm City’s both first and last.
However, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, along with several City Council members, local business leaders and IndyCar executives, believed in the potential of the event, and sought out an experienced team of professionals that could make it a success.
That was the cue for Race On LLC, a promotional group led by Baltimore businessmen J.P. Grant and Greg O'Neill, to step forward with a plan to take over the Baltimore Grand Prix. That plan included selling Michael Andretti, CEO of Andretti Sports Marketing, on the promise held by the race weekend. Michael, the son of racing icon Mario Andretti and himself a winner of 42 IndyCar and Formula One races, was no stranger to the management of big time auto racing. His company had already built a successful portfolio of such events in Milwaukee, St. Petersburg and Toronto.
The Andretti team partnered with Race On for the 2012 Grand Prix event. The races comprising the weekend would be owned and promoted by the Baltimore based company which would take full responsibility for managing local promotions, sales and public relations. Andretti Sports Marketing would serve as a management consultant to Race On and take over the responsibilities for the operations of the 2012 Grand Prix of Baltimore.
The rest is history as the duo of Race On and Andretti Sports Marketing prepare again for 2013 edition of the Grand Prix of Baltimore.
I spoke to Michael Andretti about his involvement in this important race weekend event for Charm City, and what it takes to run it successfully. I also questioned him about simultaneously being a team owner who oversees the running of four IndyCars participating in this year’s Grand Prix.
JW: What attracted you to being part of the 2012 Grand Prix of Baltimore?
Andretti: We talked with J.P.Grant about working with Race On to keep the race alive. We were happy to jump in and take the event on. I thought it would be a real black eye to both IndyCar and to Baltimore if the race was taken off the schedule. I knew that the region had plenty of great race fans and that they would support the race weekend. Our goal was to put on a first class event, knowing that we had a very short period of time. That being said, we had to operate the event in a manner that could set the stage for future races in Baltimore.
JW: What was it like to build a race course on the streets of Baltimore in 2012?
Andretti: Wow ( laughter). It is a very, very big job and we are very happy to have a great partners like Race On and the City of Baltimore. They do make things easier. The logistics involved in building a race course are truly amazing and you can’t do this without people who are dedicated and knowledgable. We have to design a track layout that is challenging to the drivers, uses existing city streets, and at the same time, gives fans the best possible viewing experience. To be honest I am still amazed that last year we were able to get this course set up and built with the help of the city in less than 100 days. That might be a record and I am very proud of the work of all the people involved in making it happen.
JW: What is the weekend like for you both as a race promoter and car owner?
Andretti: It is busy to say the least. Andretti Sports Marketing is in charge of operating the entire race weekend with Race ON but fortunately I have a good group of people who can handle the administrative duties of the event. They take care of the different races that occur during the weekend; the American LeMans race, the Indy Lights race and of course the Grand Prix. My focus is on overseeing the Andretti Autosport Racing Team, making sure that we are ready to compete. We won the Grand Prix last year with Ryan Hunter–Reay. Our goal is to have our drivers take as many of the top spots as possible this year.
JW: Speaking of Andretti Autosport, this has been a good year for you.
Andretti: We won the IndyCar Championship last year with Ryan and so this year the goal was to get more than one car into the hunt for a title. Thus far this season we have three very competitive cars. Ryan is back and looking to defend his title. We also have my son Marco driving for the Andretti team as well as James Hinchcliffe, who is tied with Scott Dixon of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team for the most IndyCar wins thus far this season. So, yes, we are having a good year. The Baltimore race could be key in deciding who wins the 2013 IndyCar Championship.
For those interested in getting tickets to the 2013 Grand Prix of Baltimore or to find out more about the big Labor Day weekend of speed, go to www.grandprixofbaltimore.com for all event information.